Before starting any enterprise or project, whether a traditional for-profit business or a nonprofit, it’s always essential to have a helpful checklist to help one organize thoughts, tasks, inputs, and focus. Starting, operating, and growing a nonprofit organization can be a gratifying, highly rewarding endeavor for all involved, including the recipients of the nonprofit’s work. Creating, establishing, and operating a nonprofit organization requires careful planning and organization at every step.

To ensure your success, reduce obstacles, and avoid costly mistakes, we’ve created this free starting a nonprofit organization checklist PDF for any nonprofit to adapt, implement, and guide the process easier, more comprehensively, and faster.

Download our checklist for free:

A step-by-step guide to starting a nonprofit checklist

To ensure legal compliance and operational efficiency, here are just a few of the essential things to include in your nonprofit checklist template:

Step 1: Define your mission and vision

As with any critical endeavor, defining the organization’s mission, purpose, and goals is essential to success. What is a mission statement, and why does one need one?

A mission statement is a written declaration or definition of your non-profit that articulates or documents your goals and purpose in a couple of short sentences or paragraphs. An excellent mission statement should include four essential elements: Specificity, plausibility, inspiration, and value. This element aims to convey your organization’s essence and purpose in an “elevator speech” in a condensed and memorable form.

Step 2: Conduct a needs assessment

Who are you serving? Who are the “consumers” or recipients of your nonprofit organization’s output or “deliverables?” What are their shared needs or concerns? Who are all your constituents?

For example, your non-profit could serve disadvantaged youth, poor women, crime victims, or just about any community or group that could benefit from your nonprofit organization’s activities, leadership, mentorships, donations, etc. This is another crucial element to include in a comprehensive nonprofit operations checklist.

Step 3: Select a board of directors

All aspects of creating a nonprofit organization are essential. However, choosing a board of directors is one of the most critical decisions when forming a non-profit, and completing an effective and thorough nonprofit checklist. Boards can include members with many titles, including the president, vice president, treasurer, directors, board members, executive, etc.

The “human” factor defines, shapes, and ensures the success or failure of every enterprise, including nonprofit organizations. These board members should be devoted to and share the organization’s mission and vision and possess the talents, skills, education, etc., crucial to making valuable contributions, advancing the entities’ goals, and collaborating effectively with members, vendors, partners, recipients, and other individuals and entities touched by the nonprofit’s mission and work. 

Step 4: Name your organization

Naming a child, a pet, a boat, a product, a company, or a nonprofit is always fun, essential, and sometimes challenging. Choosing something memorable, impactful, and catchy that helps define your mission, culture, or unique value proposition is another building block or essential element of your nonprofit checklist tasks. A name defines every entity and is your “brand,” so put some thought and time into completing this task. 

And, in these days of global corporations and scarce unique names and availability, it’s vital to research, trademark, register, etc., a name to ensure that your nonprofit’s chosen name is available, registered, and protected.

There are many legal considerations and needs in starting any business or nonprofit. For non-profits, however, it always begins with a filing for a 501(c) or 501(c)(3) designation or status. Simply put, this status is an IRS designation that grants recipients tax-exempt status. It is only granted to some applicants, and legal standards must be met to secure and retain it. 

In addition to applying for and securing 501(c) or 501(c)(3) status, there are other legal considerations and needs. Other legal concerns may include record-keeping requirements, compliance with employment laws, trademark and copyright protection, financial oversights, risk management, or aversion to protecting the organization, clients, and members.

Step 6: Draft bylaws

Bylaws are the rules or regulations governing the internal operations of nonprofits or for-profit businesses. Simply put, they are the operating manual of your nonprofit. Many states require bylaws, and some do not. Even if they’re not legally required, they are always highly advisable.

Bylaws should define procedures, elections, member’s roles, how to conduct meetings, grants distribution, conflict resolution, and more.

Step 7: File articles of incorporation

Submit the legal articles of your nonprofits to appropriate state organizations. Articles of incorporation are formal documents that include the nonprofit’s legal name, address for primary office, contact details, duration of organization, contact details, etc. 

Each state has slightly different rules or regulations for bylaws.

Step 8: Apply for an EIN

An EIN is an acronym for Employer Identification Number and is assigned to the nonprofit by the IRS.

A nonprofit must file via email, fax, or mail to obtain an EIN. The nonprofit submits a Form SSF-4PDFG to the IRS, and the IRS generates the EIN.

Step 9: State registration

As referenced several times before, many states require nonprofits to file required paperwork.

Determine your state’s requirements and ensure your organization’s documents are correctly completed, submitted, and processed.

Step 10: Create a budget

Non-profit and for-profit organizations must create, set, and implement operating budgets to fund all the various tasks and liabilities that every organization requires.

Proper and accurate budgeting can always be challenging, even for experienced businesspeople. One must project current and future operating costs, potential or surprise costs, and possibly increases in inputs, labor, or other overhead costs–rents, taxes, legal, upkeep, etc. Working with other accounting, business operations, legal professionals, etc., can help create the best budgets.

Step 11: Open a bank account

A pivotal and essential decision is selecting and establishing a relationship with a bank or other lending organizations.

Open a separate bank account to handle the nonprofit’s banking and lending needs. It’s essential to seek out great relationships and trusted vendors; a bank is one of these. Analyze fees, minimums, and other services.

Step 12: Secure necessary insurance coverage

In the current business and nonprofit climate, one must ensure that the organization possesses all types of coverage, and those can include the following types of insurance: property, cyber, umbrella insurance, fiduciary, professional indemnity, errors and omissions coverage, and more.

Consult trusted professionals, including licensed commercial insurance brokers, attorneys, accountants, and others, when evaluating what types of insurance the nonprofit may need and at what levels. Insurance must be included on your nonprofit operations checklist and template.

Step 13: Maintain record keeping

Even in 2024, maintaining proper records, paperwork, ledgers, or documentation (digital or traditional) is vital when operating any organization. All nonprofits and businesses should develop proper record-keeping practices, standards, security, and retention (both digital and traditional).

Accurate, comprehensive, and safe record keeping helps important stakeholders and analysts monitor, verify, and preserve vital financial, legal, and compliance documentation and records to help document operations and prevent lawsuits or other issues that can impact the whole enterprise.

Step 14: Hold kickoff board meeting

Convene the first board meeting, establish a solid rapport with all stakeholders, finetune your processes, and discuss and approve essential matters.

If members need to become more familiar with best practices, consider developing helpful resources, assigning articles, and onboarding all members consistently prior to the inaugural meeting.

Step 15: Develop a fundraising strategy

Fundraising is the lifeblood of every nonprofit and can be a constant challenge for nonprofits, large and small. 

Identifying, seeking, contacting, and nurturing individual and corporate donors. It is a critical function and consideration that must be listed on your nonprofit organization template and checklist. Fundraising helps all nonprofits obtain the necessary resources to fulfill their mission and ensure the nonprofit’s growth, stability, and future.

Step 16: Comply with employment laws 

Compliance with state and federal labor laws ensures a safe, inclusive, productive, and compliant nonprofit and operations.

Compliance may require the input or need of a full-time HR professional, consultation with attorneys, etc. Consider creating written policies and guidelines to help the nonprofit operate legally and avoid violations, and ensure that this consideration is one of the punches you make to your nonprofit checklist.

Step 17: Promote and market the nonprofit

As with all enterprises, nonprofits face market competition just like for-profit businesses. While some differences exist in the approaches, deliverables, or goals of non-profits versus businesses, nonprofits still have to market, promote, publicize, and “sell” themselves. Their deliverables are their recipients, results, and donor’s and supporter’s satisfaction with their efforts.

Nonprofits should formulate a plan and budget for building awareness of their nonprofit through social media, publicity, events, fund drives, and traditional and digital advertising buys. Every comprehensive checklist template for starting a nonprofit should include this essential item.

Step 18: Build a website and claim social media platforms

While traditional media such as broadcast and cable TV, radio, print, and outdoor advertising are still powerful methods of reaching donors, building awareness, and building demand, digital and mobile platforms dominate when it comes to attracting donors, creating awareness, and developing a “brand.”

Build a mobile-friendly website that helps define, convey, and amplify your nonprofit’s efforts, tells your story, and attracts new users, donors, and advocates. Additionally, harness the immense power of social media platforms, including Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, X, and more, to attract support for your nonprofit’s mission, expand your donor base, and ensure that your organization stands out in a crowded, diluted, and noisy marketplace of ideas and causes.

Step 19: Stay industry current

Note, plan, and develop strategies to keep the nonprofit’s board members, employees, and volunteers informed and industry-current so that they can all produce, adapt, and grow as industry conditions and world events constantly change.

Include this objective in your nonprofit blueprint for success and encourage a consistent learning and continuing education culture.

Also read:Optimizing Donor Outreach: 5 Best Practices for Nonprofits

Why do you need a nonprofit checklist?

Hopefully, after reading the previous paragraphs and digesting this information, any reader involved in launching and operating a successful nonprofit will see the need for organization, documentation, and communications and how our helpful checklist template for starting a nonprofit can aid in this process.

Operating a nonprofit may require additional tools, resources, labor, and, most importantly, software. These tools include adapting and integrating CRM software options to help a nonprofit organize, scale, operate, and thrive.

Also read: Membership Management Software Guide

What’s next?

Finally, explore some of the best options for selecting fantastic CRM software, including offerings from Salesforce, HubSpot, Asana, and more that help organize and empower any nonprofit, its staff, and its partners to run a seamless, integrated, compliant, and efficient organization that can meet and surpass its goals and deliver maximum results. This article and checklist can definitely help you get organized and prioritize your tasks, but a more long-term and comprehensive solution will most likely include the adaptation of an integrated CRM tool. Check out our full CRM Software Buyer’s Guide to guide you through the maze of options. We did the heavy lifting for you.

TechnologyAdvice is able to offer our services for free because some vendors may pay us for web traffic or other sales opportunities. Our mission is to help technology buyers make better purchasing decisions, so we provide you with information for all vendors — even those that don’t pay us.

Featured Partners: CRM Software


Yes, registering your nonprofit with the state is essential for legal recognition and operation.

Obtaining 501(c)(3) status is crucial for tax-exempt benefits, but not all nonprofits may qualify or need to apply.

Doug Tull Avatar

About the author